The New Zealand Earthquake Was So Intense, It Did Something Inconceivable To The Ocean Floor

November 2016’s Kaikoura earthquake on South Island, New Zealand, terrorized locals and visitors alike. And though it wasn’t on the scale of the 2011 quake, which claimed nearly 200 lives, it ended up doing something truly epic to the ocean floor.

The earthquake hit an area north of Christchurch at midnight on Monday, November 14 and was followed by two major aftershocks. And to say they all were big would be something of an understatement.

Indeed, the first quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, with the aftershocks measuring 6.3 and 5.8 respectively. These figures, in fact, made it one of the three most violent quakes of 2016.

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And while the quake shook the earth, it also caused a tsunami that hit New Zealand’s east coast. For example, at Kaikoura, the seaside town not far from the epicenter, an 8.2-foot-high wave was recorded.

And because there were over 2,000 smaller aftershocks in the wake of the quake, scientists reckon that further earthquakes could come sooner rather than later. Which, considering that this one has already caused as many as 100,000 landslides, would be bad news indeed.

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Aside from the landslides, the Kaikoura quake claimed two lives, caused dozens of injuries and left more than 1,000 people stranded. Among those rescued was a 100-year-old woman, who was pulled from the rubble of her collapsed home.

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With buildings and infrastructure also succumbing to the quake, it’s believed that the repair bill could be as high as $8.4 billion. Reconstruction efforts, meanwhile, are expected to take months.

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However, after the earthquake struck approximately 1,000 locals and vacationers were fortunately rescued. A pair of naval ships picked people up from northern Canterbury, while a fleet of helicopters airlifted people to safety from Kaikoura and Hurunui.

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Moreover, the impact spread all the way to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, where structural damage to buildings and power cuts were widespread. It was Kaikoura and elsewhere in northern Canterbury, however, that bore the brunt of the quake.

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Indeed, when Kaikoura residents woke up on the morning of November 14, they were greeted with the bizarre sight of the sea floor. The earthquake, it turned out, had moved the seabed from water to land.

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Amazingly, in fact, the the seabed had shifted a whole 6-and-a-half feet to its new home on dry land. Now the underwater realm was, for the first time, above ground – and locals were quick to photograph the strange spectacle.

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The phenomenon was also captured by satellites, with their before-and-after images revealing the scale of what had happened to the ocean floor. For one, the coast appeared almost black with seaweed.

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Joshu Mountjoy, a marine geologist from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, explained to Stuff that it’s “the first time we’ve seen something like this.” And he added, “It will take a while before this becomes normal again.”

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The seabed’s relocation, though spectacular, comes with a sad subplot. And it centers on the creatures of the deep – like sea snails and crayfish – who suddenly found themselves stranded.

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After all, experts believe that it could take years for such marine life to be replenished. And this isn’t just bad news for the creatures themselves; local fishermen, faced with depleted stocks, are also expected to suffer.

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What’s more, the relocating of the ocean floor took just a matter of minutes. However, because it happened during the hours of darkness nobody was able to document it in real time. Nicola Litchfield, a GNS Science earthquake geologist, told Stuff, “It would have been amazing if it had been daylight and someone had seen it.”

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And while Kaikoura itself escaped serious damage, the town’s infrastructure took a real hit from the earthquake more generally. Indeed, by November 19 the town was still cut off, with its sewers having been damaged beyond repair. Its water supply, meanwhile, remained fragile.

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Some buildings were, though, sadly destroyed. And one of them was Ohau Point Seal Colony, a popular attraction where visitors could watch seal pups playing in the waterfall of a local stream.

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As for the uprooting of the seabed, it’s not, scientists reckon, necessarily a totally bad thing. Indeed, it gives them the opportunity to undertake research without having to use diving equipment.

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But as researchers observe this new phenomenon, others still will attempt to restore Kaikoura and its surroundings to its former glory. And if the resilience showed by New Zealanders after the 2011 quake is anything to go by, this will only be a matter of time.

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